Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, slammed the NSA over spying on German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and other American allies, calling for a major investigation of the U.S. National Security Agency and “a total review of all intelligence programs” in a statement Monday.
“It is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed. Therefore our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased,” the powerful Democrat said. “With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies—including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany—let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.”
Feinstein’s strongly worded, confrontational statement is all the more remarkable considering her usual stance as a defender of U.S. intelligence services’ collection of emails and recording of phone conversations. As Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, she has long been a supporter of the FISA Amendments Act, a controversial measure which authorizes surveillance by the NSA. In addition, the Senior Senator from California also helped craft a cybersecurity bill known as CISPA, which has faced continual delays in being passed due to serious concerns over its effects on Internet privacy. But recent leaks about the NSA seem to have included secrets of which even senior elected officials like Feinstein were not aware, despite her key position in intelligence oversight.
Feinstein’s slam of NSA spying comes on the heels of revelations that the agency had spied on over 30 world leaders’ private conversations, including allied leaders like Angela Merkel, some for extremely long periods of time. For example, reports say tapping of Merkel’s cell phone began in 2002.
Germans, who still remember the East German Communist secret police known as the Stasi eavesdropping on citizens before the Berlin Wall came down, have responded with outrage. The German Parliament has announced it will hold a special session to investigate reports of American spying publicly. The country’s opposition party, the left-leaning Social Democrats, have even called for American whistleblower Edward Snowden to testify. Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor in IT, is responsible for many of the leaked revelations, and is now living as an asylum seeker in Russia.
“These actions are intolerable, they have the power to destroy the ties of friendship that have always bound us to the U.S.,” said the Social Democrats’ general secretary, Andrea Nahles, in the German tabloid Bild am Sonntag. Nahles also said that “Edward Snowden could be a valuable witness.”
On Sunday, the Wall Street journal reported that not even President Obama knew of the surveillance of Merkel and the other world leaders until recently. Other reports have stated that the German chancellor was on the NSA list until weeks before Obama visited Berlin this past June, which would mean that the spying continued for over ten years. The NSA has also denied another Bild am Sonntag report that Obama knew about the surveillance, saying that agency’s director “did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true.”
Obama has called for an investigation into the activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies, and the fact that long-time spying supporter Feinstein is also calling for such a review underlines the seriousness of the situation. Relationships with many other major world leaders have been complicated by the revelations, including President Francois Holland of France, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and now Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Feinstein, however, also specifically differentiated the spying on Merkel and other leaders from intelligence activities she considers legal, such as “NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order.” She is unlikely to oppose other surveillance programs that have been domestically controversial, and today’s statement has not endeared her to opponents of such activities.
Though FISA supporters like the Senator have long maintained that data collected by intelligence agents is only examined when there is suspicion of terrorist activity, no one has ever alleged Angela Merkel has any ties to terrorism. But many assert this kind of large scale eavesdropping, especially domestically, shouldn’t be happening either way.
“Dianne Feinstein is cool with spying on millions of ordinary citizens, but not people in power—that’s unacceptable,” Freedom of the Press director Trevor Timm wrote, referencing Feinstein’s reaction to spying on Merkel in a slam on the Senator’s previous NSA stance.
By: Jeremy Forbing